Hundreds of protesters gathered in San Francisco’s upscale Pacific Heights neighborhood on April 3 to greet President Barack Obama with signs and chants opposing the Keystone XL pipeline. Nationwide, environmentalists have been pressuring the president in recent months to reject construction permits for the oil infrastructure project, which would transport oil to U.S. refineries from Canada's Alberta tar sands.
The president was in San Francisco for a $32,500 per person Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) fundraiser at the mansion of San Francisco billionaires Gordon and Ann Getty, preceded by a $5,000 per person cocktail reception hosted at the Sea Cliff residence of Tom Steyer, a billionaire former hedge fund manager, and his wife Kat Taylor. Steyer and Taylor are vocal critics of the pipeline and have donated to environmental causes.
Around 6 p.m., protesters gathered to parade past the rows of mansions, braving the chilly mist as they sang, chanted and waved signs opposing the pipeline. "If the environment were a bank, it would have been saved already," one handmade cardboard sign read.
Police set up barricades to restrict access to the Getty residence, and when protesters spilled into the nearby intersection of Broadway and Divisadero, police officers stationed on the street with megaphones joined with motorcycle cops in urging the crowd backward onto the sidewalk, creating a tight squeeze.
Chants included phrases like, “What do we say to the president? No pipeline for the one percent!” And, “Hey, Obama, we don’t want no pipeline drama.” The action was organized by a host of prominent environmental organizations including 350.org, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Credo Action, and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
Guardian video by Rebecca Bowe
Just before the events got underway, the Guardian encountered Michael Klein, a major donor and former board chair of the radical environmental organization RAN. Klein, who said he’s served on the boards of other environmental organizations as well, is also a member of the DCCC – and he said he’s “really close” with Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist who was playing host to the president that evening.
“I know how Tom feels about it, and he’s not a supporter” of the Keystone XL pipeline, Klein told the Guardian. “This whole area is filled with so much ambivalence and contradiction. It’s a really complex area, and it’s not an easy situation politically for the president.”
Klein was dressed down in a windbreaker, standing on the sidewalk outside a stately residence where protesters, some of them from RAN, were beginning to congregate. Asked what brought him out to the protest that day, he responded, “I live here.”
Yet Klein had no plans to drop in on his neighbors, the Gettys, that night. “I was invited to the events,” he told the Guardian, but “I couldn’t go,” as a matter of principle. And besides, when it comes to fancy black-tie fundraising galas, “I don’t like those events anyway,” Klein said.